In 2015 to celebrate reviewing for five years I started a series entitled Five of the Best where I chose my favourite five star reads which I’d read in that month. Later in 2018 I will be celebrating Five years of blogging and so I decided it was time to repeat the series.
You can read my original review of the book featured by clicking on the book cover.
My choice of review for February 2014 is Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent which can’t help but grab your attention from the very first line:
‘I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.’
A book reminiscent of those written by Patricia Highsmith and Barbara Vine, Unravelling Oliver seeks to peel back the layers of Oliver’s life in a study of a psychopath.
As we travel through the five decades of his life different characters from Oliver’s life tell us a little bit more about the man, as if they are giving interviews to the media as monologues, each one giving us a little more insight into Oliver’s character and the events that shaped his life.
The originality, cleverness and fantastic characters which peel back the layers of Oliver over the years was a sheer delight to read.
Liz Nugent’s gripping novel of psychological suspense, Unravelling Oliver, is a complex and elegant study of the making of a sociopath in the tradition of Barbara Vine and Patricia Highsmith.
Oliver Ryan is a handsome and charismatic success story. He lives in the suburbs with his wife, Alice, who illustrates his award-winning children’s books and gives him her unstinting devotion. Their life together is one of enviable privilege and ease – enviable until, one evening after supper, Oliver attacks Alice and beats her into a coma.
In the aftermath, as everyone tries to make sense of his astonishing act of savagery, Oliver tells his story. So do those whose paths he has crossed over five decades. What unfolds is a story of shame, envy, breath-taking deception and masterful manipulation.
Only Oliver knows the lengths to which he has had to go to get the life to which he felt entitled. But even he is in for a shock when the past catches up with him. Amazon
It is another psychological that takes the top spot for February 2015 although this one is of the more action-packed variety. Hidden by Emma Kavanagh opens with a shooting at a Welsh hospital with our own reporter, Charlie, who was onsite at the time this is one of those books that had me convinced this could be a ‘real-life’ event.
This was a tense and complex read which is a mixture of more traditional crime fiction alongside the psychological element. The plotting and characterisation both key to pulling of this unforgettable read.
A gunman is stalking the wards of a local hospital. He’s unidentified and dangerous, and has to be located. Urgently.
Police Firearms Officer Aden McCarthy is tasked with tracking him down. Still troubled by the shooting of a schoolboy, Aden is determined to make amends by finding the gunman – before it’s too late.
To psychologist Imogen, hospital should be a place of healing and safety – both for her, and her young niece who’s been recently admitted. She’s heard about the gunman, but he has little to do with her. Or has he?
As time ticks down, no one knows who the gunman’s next target will be. But he’s there. Hiding in plain sight. Far closer than anyone thinks… Amazon
As well as crime fiction my other great reading love is for historical fiction and this is an author who also appeared in January’s Five of the Best – The Ballroom by Anna Hope takes us to Sharston Asylum in West Riding Yorkshire and is set in 1911.
With stand-out characters which include patients as well as one of the doctors, we learn about a community where the care of those with mental health issues was no longer completely in the dark ages. The title refers to the dances, complete with band, which took place to lift the spirits of the inmates.
The story is told by each of the three narrators; Ella, John and Charles each evocative in different ways and perfectly providing the reader with a picture of the summer of 1911 when the heat was unbroken, the fields filled with crops and the steamy and smelly laundry where Ella washed underwear and sheets, was damp and hot.
An unforgettable read, not to be missed.
1911: Inside an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire moors, where men and women are kept apart by high walls and barred windows, there is a ballroom vast and beautiful.
For one bright evening every week they come together and dance.
When John and Ella meet It is a dance that will change two lives forever.
Set over the heatwave summer of 1911, the end of the Edwardian era, THE BALLROOM is a historical love story. It tells a page-turning tale of dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which. Amazon
I finally got around to reading and reviewing The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell in February 2017 and was blown away by this story set in the time of the American Prohibition.
So we are in 1920s Brooklyn during the Prohibition period. Rose our narrator is a typist in the Police Precinct there and we hear her thoughts on the other typists who she feels superior to. And then Odalie joins the typing pool and Rose’s life is thrown into disarray. In my review I comment that Rose isn’t so much an unreliable narrator as a nebulous one, even at the end of the book I found it hard to pinpoint exactly where the truth ended and the lies began… A superb character study in a time-period and place I know far too little about so all I can say is it had me hooked and oh, that ending!
New York City, 1924: the height of Prohibition and the whole city swims in bathtub gin.
Rose Baker is an orphaned young woman working for her bread as a typist in a police precinct on the lower East Side. Every day Rose transcribes the confessions of the gangsters and murderers that pass through the precinct. While she may disapprove of the details, she prides herself on typing up the goriest of crimes without batting an eyelid.
But when the captivating Odalie begins work at the precinct Rose finds herself falling under the new typist’s spell. As do her bosses, the buttoned up Lieutenant Detective and the fatherly Sergeant. As the two girls’ friendship blossoms and they flit between the sparkling underworld of speakeasies by night, and their work at the precinct by day, it is not long before Rose’s fascination for her new colleague turns to obsession.
But just who is the real Odalie, and how far will Rose go to find out? Amazon
My choice for February 2018 is also one from my own bookshelf; Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase is an evocative read set between two time zones. Easter 1968 a tragic event at the house affectional known as Black Rabbit Hall by the Alton changes the family’s life forever.
In the present day Lorna is looking for the perfect wedding venue and is drawn to happy holiday memories in Cornwall with her parents and her sister. But, yes, you’ve guessed it – there are secrets that are there to be uncovered!
This is a beautiful tale, wonderfully descriptive with all the elements of a traditional fairy tale wrapped up in a believable family saga.
One golden family. One fateful summer. Four lives changed forever.
Amber Alton knows that the hours pass differently at Black Rabbit Hall, her London family’s country estate where no two clocks read the same. Summers there are perfect, timeless. Not much ever happens. Until, one stormy evening in 1968, it does.
The idyllic world of the four Alton children is shattered. Fiercely bonded by the tragic events, they grow up fast. But when a glamorous stranger arrives, these loyalties are tested. Forbidden passions simmer. And another catastrophe looms . . .
Decades later, Lorna and her fiancé wind their way through the countryside searching for a wedding venue. Lorna is drawn to a beautiful crumbling old house she hazily remembers from her childhood, feels a bond she does not understand. When she finds a disturbing message carved into an old oak tree by one of the Alton children, she begins to realise that Black Rabbit Hall’s secret history is as dark and tangled as its woods, and that, much like her own past, it must be brought into the light.
A thrilling spiral into the hearts of two women separated by decades but inescapably linked by Black Rabbit Hall. A story of forgotten childhood and broken dreams, secrets and heartache, and the strength of a family’s love. Amazon
If you want to see what the five books featured on Five of the Best for February 2011 to 2015 were you can do so here
How many of these have you read? Did you enjoy them as much as I did? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Five of the Best 2018